The second Tears of the Kingdom launched this week, and my mind immediately went to Nintendo’s Next Big Thing. I don’t know why I’m like this – call it game journalism brain rot – but while everyone’s focused on the new Zelda, I’m just trying to figure out what Nintendo’s next move is. We know Pikmin 4 is out in July – and will be a modest success just like the other Pikmin games – but we know very little about what the rest of the year holds, and nothing about Nintendo’s big holiday game. Without Zelda launching so early in the year and no new Pokemon to carry us through Christmas, this would be the perfect year to finally return to Donkey Kong Country.
It’s been a lifetime since the last Donkey Kong Country game, and we’re long overdue for a new entry. While Tropical Freeze did make its way to Switch back in 2018, the game originally launched on the Wii U in 2014. That’s almost ten years since we’ve seen DK, which seems bad enough for a beloved franchise, and even worse when you consider how well Tropical Freeze was received.
Donkey Kong holds an interesting position in the landscape of the Nintendo series. As Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, and Kirby made the transition to 3D, Donkey Kong and Yoshi have become Nintendo’s last remaining classic 2D platformers. While the Yoshi series has established itself a charming intro for young players, Donkey Kong has maintained its identity as a traditional, skillful platformer that’s occasionally tough as nails – and as a result, it’s always satisfying.
Many people, myself included, consider Tropical Freeze to be the pinnacle of what 2D platformers have to offer. Its impeccable level design and inventive boss battles are the best in the series, and the way it constantly introduces new and interesting mechanics before casting them aside for newer, even more interesting mechanics makes it a joy to play from beginning to end. It overcomes flaws that I thought were inherent to the genre, and it blows away the modern Mario 2D games like New Super Mario Bros. U. Tropical Freeze is a masterpiece and the last great entry of the dying genre that made Nintendo what it is today.
Retro Studios, who took over Donkey Kong after Rare was acquired by Microsoft, has been busy with Metroid. It launched Metroid Prime Remastered earlier this year, and it took over development of Metroid Prime 4 in January 2019. It is unknown what Retro was working on between the release of Tropical Freeze in 2014 and the start of development on Metroid Prime 4 in 2019, but rumors of a new Donkey Kong have circulated for a few years.
In early 2021, leaker LoneyGoomba claimed that a new 3D Donkey Kong game was in development from the Super Mario Odyssey team, EPD Tokyo while another leaker called Zippo claimed that the same team was working on a 2D game. A Donkey Kong fansite called DK Vine also corroborated the claim that EPD Tokyo was developing a new Donkey Kong game, but couldn’t say if it was 3D or 2D. None of these rumors are backed by sources, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the Super Mario studio – which hasn’t launched a new game since 2017 – is working on either a Mario or Donkey Kong game, or possibly both. Last year, Nintendo updated the trademark on Donkey Kong with a clause that covers “downloaded programs for portable and electronic consoles”, which would indicate a new Switch game is on the horizon.
It’s only right that Donkey Kong gets a chance to bask in the glory of the Switch before it’s all said and done. All of Nintendo’s biggest characters have had huge success on the Switch, and some, like Metroid, have been revitalized by it. With the massive success of Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo doesn’t really need a major holiday launch like the next Mario to bolster console sales. This is the best year to finally bring a new Donkey Kong game to the Switch, because even if its sales are modest, Nintendo has already made its year. When you consider the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie and the inevitable Donkey Kong spin-off that’s sure to follow, it’s hard to imagine a better time to kick off the DK renaissance than right now.
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